Ask hoteliers what their priority is and, publicly, most are likely to come up with a stock phrase like ‘delighting guests’, while privately the bottom line is probably uppermost in their thoughts. (According to one former hotelier, the client may even be viewed as a ‘necessary evil’). The guest experience clearly has an impact on revenue and profitability, but what impact does it have on hotel operations?
We’re looking at improving the guest experience through the employee experience. We believe, at least at Four Seasons, what makes our company special (beyond hotel design and beautiful buildings) is service.
Connecting employees and hotel guests
In the company’s guest surveys, the notion of ‘unscripted care’ always comes to the fore. Outside policies and procedures, and a mechanical approach to service, Clerc says, unscripted care ‘is when an employee goes above and beyond to connect with guests and fulfill their needs in a very authentic and personal way.”
For us, hiring people that have the highest level of ethics and integrity (is important), of course, but (they should) also have a confident personality and be passionate about what they do, and are genuine, thoughtful people. That is critical to our culture.
As Clerc, an EHL alumnus (1992), pointed out to the current students on the sidelines of the school’s Career Fair in mid-October, Four Seasons conducts behavioral-based job interviews as opposed to technical-based interviews “because we want to know who you are and make sure that your values and your personality are in keeping with what our company values are.”
Customer-centric & empowered employees
He, too, emphasizes that the hospitality business is all about the guests.
“We’re a people-centric company and you have to make sure that your entire organization is aligned around this. It starts with our employees who ultimately impact the experiences – large and small – that we create for our guests.”
During the session, he recounted a ‘moving and powerful’ example of how his hotel staff took it upon themselves to get a recipe and then bake a loaf of gluten-free bread for one particular guest who had requested it – years before gluten-free products were readily available. “This only happens when employees feel they’re empowered to do something,” he says. “You can’t teach someone to care. You can teach them a number of skills but either you care or don’t. Either you’re focused on others or you’re focused on yourself. In our business you have to be focused on others. You have to enjoy creating magic for others.”
“What you will remember from the hotel stay is probably not the design, the rooms, or the physical aspects. What you’ll remember are the interactions you have with the people that you engaged with, either positive, neutral or negative.” (And for Clerc, ‘neutral’ feedback can be as bad as negative comments).
In our business, we put our guests in the hands of the line employees. When you go to a hotel you don’t see the general manager, you don’t see the executive team. You interact with the front-of-house staff and so they need to be empowered to provide intuitive genuine service. That only happens if you hire people who care, are genuine, and who have the emotional intelligence to know what is appropriate and what is not.
“Because service can also be intrusive sometimes, you want to respect the privacy of each guest. So it’s a fine line you walk and it’s impossible to teach.”
The future talent
“Our ability to attract talent is critical to the future of our brand and its relevance,” he told Hospitality Insights. “Obviously attracting young talent is a huge focus for us as a company.”
He highlights three dimensions that he sees as being important for the next generation:
Individuality (from the company’s point of view, unique products);
Authenticity (feeling they’re associated with something bigger than their job);
and Responsibility (values such as sustainability, etc.)
We spend a lot of time thinking about how we (need to) provide this future talent with an environment where they feel comfortable and feel they belong, that they have an opportunity to grow and hopefully have a career with us.
Respect & involvement
During his session, he also spoke about how the group had had some 45,000 job applications for 450 jobs at a new hotel in Mumbai, India. Some 24,000 were actually interviewed. That may sound excessive, but Clerc says it demonstrates their “commitment to respecting every one of those candidates who applied.”
He also spoke about the hotel group’s ‘Be the Guest’ policy whereby employees can experience for themselves other Four Seasons hotels. Asked why other hotel groups don’t have similar policies, Clerc’s response is simply: “There’s a cost associated to it.”’
Our partners [read, the hotel owners] around the world see the value in this. We’re able to do it because we’re still relatively small (with 112 hotels around the world).” He adds the group will continue with the policy “because it has a real impact on how employees see their role and how they can impact the guest experience.
The power of understanding
“As I mentioned (during the talk at EHL) there’s nothing quite as powerful as being the guest to understand the level of care and what is expected and what our guest experience is when you stay at Four Seasons and then you emulate that. That’s so much more powerful than any speech or training you can give. And so for us, it’s part of our strategy and we’ll continue to do it.”
Christian Clerc, President of Worldwide Hotel Operations at Four Seasons Hotels
At Four Seasons:
Joined in 2000 as Hotel Manager in one of the company’s flagship locations, Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC, and held posts in New York, Chicago and Punta Mita, Mexico before returning to Washington.
In 2012, he took over leadership of the Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris with regional responsibility for Florence, Milan, Geneva and Marrakech. He was promoted to President, Hotel Operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa in 2014, and to his current position in 2016.
Previously: Hotels in Geneva, Washington, Rome and Paris